How to Prepare for an Earthquake

Did you notice that things have been shaking a bit lately? No matter how many years I live in Japan, I never get used to that. The Great Tohoku Earthquake of ’11 stretched my perspective a bit and made all the others before it seem like nothing at all, but it still freaks me out when the earth moves under my feet.

I learned a valuable lesson in March 2011 – I discovered that I had no idea how to prepare for an earthquake. Whether you’re in Japan, the earthquake capital of the world, or anywhere else (they can happen anywhere), here’s a rundown on what to do.

Duck and Cover

When the shaking starts, duck and cover. Try to get under something heavy like a large desk or table and hold onto something sturdy like one of its legs. The idea is to protect yourself from things that could fall on you. If nothing heavy and sturdy is available for protection, get to an inside wall, and duck and cover there.

The whole thing about doorways is not true. A doorway isn’t necessarily safer than any other part of the house.

Watch out for:

l  Light fixtures, pictures, and other hanging things that might fall on you

l  Bookcases and other heavy stuff that could topple

l  Windows, mirrors and anything else with glass that could break

If you’re outside, try to get to an open area like a field or a park. The biggest danger to you will be things falling from above like power lines, signs, trees or debris from buildings.

Stay or Get Out?

Once the shaking stops, you have to decide what to do next. If it was a big quake and there’s serious damage, you should get out of the house. There may also be aftershocks. As you leave, watch out for broken glass on the floor. Don’t run; proceed quickly but carefully.

If you’re in a skyscraper in an urban area, you’re probably better off staying put. Outside in the street where you’re surrounded by tall buildings, you’re more likely to get hit by broken glass or falling debris.

Preparing for an Earthquake

One of the stupidest things I did was something I didn’t do – prepare. I had no earthquake plan at all. Everybody should have one, even if you live in a place that doesn’t typically have quakes.

Make a basic blueprint of your house or apartment building. Identify the safest part of each room (under stuff, away from glass, against inside wall, etc.) and plan two escape routes from each room. As part of your escape plan, make a stop at the gas and electric shutoff and turn off the juice. Show the plan to everybody who lives in your house and make sure they know what to do.

You may also want to pack a survival bag containing food, water, first aid, and supplies in case you can’t stay at your house. It’s much easier to run back in and grab this bag than it is to start packing it among the rubble.

Stay Calm

Earthquakes are terrifying but stay calm. It’s much easier than it sounds, but it’s important. Keep your mind on what needs to be done right now. Practice deep breathing or something else to help you cope with panic. If you have kids, don’t let them see you freaking out.

Don’t Do What I Did

When the Great Tohoku Earthquake hit, I was sitting right here at my desk working. In about ten seconds, it went from mild tremors to things falling off shelves. I ran to the doorway and stood there not really sure what to do (instead of jumping under my huge desk!).

After the shaking stopped, I started cleaning up all the stuff that had fallen off the shelves. Midway through doing that, a massive aftershock that was almost as big as the initial quake hit. My dumb ass then left the building.

A quake the size of the Great Tohoku Earthquake happens about once in a thousand years. I don’t have to worry about that again – I hope (knock on wood). But knowing that I’m now prepared makes me feel a heck of a lot better. Especially these days, when large quakes are on the rise and hitting areas like New England in the US where there aren’t traditionally quakes, it’s important to be prepared.

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